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Dramatic Increase in Religiously Unaffiliated as Protestants Lose Majority Status
Dramatic Increase in Religiously Unaffiliated as Protestants Lose Majority Status

The religiously unaffiliated are on the rise.

Just under 20 percent of all Americans do not identify with any particular religion, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report released Tuesday, titled "'Nones' on the Rise." And as that share of the population, up from 15 percent in 2007, continues to rise, the study also reports that the Protestant share, including mainline and evangelical, has dipped below the 50-percent mark for the first time.

"These numbers don't in any way suggest that religion is dying out in America," said Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, which partnered with the Pew Forum to produce part of the report. "This is a picture of what we found, but it's not a predictor of the future."

According to the report, 53 percent of respondents said they were Protestant in 2007, but only 48 percent identified as such in 2012. The decline comes primarily from white evangelical and mainline believers, down 2 and 3 percent respectively since 2007.

Christians still compose the overwhelming majority—73 percent—of the survey's 120,000 respondents, Pew reported.

Bradley Wright, associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, said the recent decline in Protestants is only symbolically significant.

"There's not very much difference between 51 and 48 percent," he said, "except if you consider that the decline is due in large part to the decline in mainline Protestants, who constituted 45 percent of the total population a century ago."

Doug Sweeney, professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church ...

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